Religion and the progressives double standard

was my Trade Tripper column in the recent weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

Last week was just about Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine known for its satirical cartoons. Though an equal opportunity offender (lampooning viciously everybody, whether it be Christians, Jews, immigrants, etc.), unfortunately one group of people didn’t find some of the cartoons funny (I don’t think anybody does) and so did what any normal, well-adjusted men of faith would do (of course, I’m being sarcastic): massacre a substantial number of the editorial staff (plus two policemen who were at the scene).

The “progressive” Left’s reaction has so far been predictable: (a) lump all religion together negatively as a bunch of intolerant extremists with hair-trigger personalities; (b) obfuscate the matter by putting out to the public gazillions of social media updates, thoughts or articles under the guise of “bridge-building” or the seeking of “compromise” (inevitably leading to inaction); or (c) blame poverty, historical hurts, or politics as the cause of the massacre (rather than pin the responsibility on adults with the free will to choose to just not kill anyone).

The first reaction is so expected it’s almost a satire: “progressives” dislike religions, as they abhor the idea of moral standards. To them, everything has to be relative. Which is why it’s bizarre that their faith (pun intended) in “freedom of expression” runs into the absolute.

As to the relationship between the rights to free expression and religion, I’ve already discussed it in a previous BusinessWorld article (“Offending hate speakers,” October 2013) and won’t repeat the points here.

However, the importance of religion in people’s lives and as a human right should be reiterated: Stanford’s Michael W. McConnel describes it this way: “Religion is a special phenomenon, in part, because it plays such a wide variety of roles in human life.” There is no other human phenomenon that combines all of these aspects (e.g., institution, worldview, locus of community, an aspect of identity, provides answers to questions of ultimate reality, and offers a connection to the transcendent); “if there were such a concept, it would probably be viewed as a religion.”

Because religion indeed plays such a huge role in the human condition and identity, it constitutes a fundamental human right alongside which other rights are arrayed. Hence, though we adhere to the idea of free speech, nevertheless, reasonableness tells us that the exercise of such right (in fact, any right) has to be done in a manner that is respectful of other and of other’s rights.

The right to religion is also subjected to this dimension; hence, why the Islamic extremists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo staff are justly and correctly condemned. The same goes for Christian anti-abortion activists who murder doctors or nurses.

Progressives have it wrong: you don’t actually respect the religion, you respect people. And many people simply like their religion. That is reality. Just as nobody should maliciously, without reason, offend the feelings of a person for liking One Direction (utterly tempting and justifiable it may be), then all the more should you respect that person’s sensitivities when it comes to his identity and his belief about his Maker.

There’s one aspect, however, that must be emphasized: as we noted above, the progressives’ inability to definitively call Islamic terrorists as responsible.

Because to hold them to account requires a standard (which an act is said to violate that gives rise to the accountability). But as mentioned previously, progressives hate standards. And worse (for them), one quite identifiable source for a standard, which will inevitably invite comparison, is Christianity. But the idea that Christianity (particularly the Catholic Church, which opposes contraception, same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc.) might actually possess possible solutions or even guidance is such an anathema to those on the Left that they will absolutely refuse to consider it at whatever cost. They’d rather have the world burn from global inaction against the terrorists just because something will not fit their narrative.

And the logic twisting goes to ridiculous lengths: Islamic extremists murder people and liberal media and academe go into hyper-drive in demanding “nuance” and “understanding”: that Muslims suffer more from terrorists or are forced to do acts not required of other faiths or have suffered historic wrongs stretching not only decades but millennia. But such are quite fallacious. Besides, the problem is not the Muslims. Or anyone’s religion. The problem is the Islamic extremists who kill, torture, or otherwise hurt people.

On the other hand, when a Christian simply writes or speaks about the faith’s doctrines on same-sex marriage, the entire liberal progressive establishment goes nuts: all of a sudden, absolutism is fine, particularly when it comes to free speech. And forget about nuance. One local newspaper columnist labeled “intolerant” the Philippine Catholic Bishops for simply pointing out a misquote on Pope Francis.

There is nothing reductionist about this: people really need to start approaching things with reason rather than ideology. Perhaps with that at least something constructive can be done.


Want inequality? Wreck the traditional family.

my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

Amid the discussions regarding 2015’s ASEAN integration, certain data had been consistently ignored by the general academe and policy makers: Filipinos 30 years old and below comprise around 70% of the population (with those below 14 years at 35%, with the median age at 22.9 years old). Those at 65 years old comprise only about 4.1%.

Quite simply, beyond economics, the very future of this country depends on how well that 70% is educated, developed, and formed.

But even just narrowing the discussion in economic terms, to state the obvious: a lot is dependent on people. A huge portion of our output or trade has to do with services, yes, but even then, manufacturing and agriculture would need people to run them. Nevertheless, despite the demographic potential that the Philippines has compared to the ageing populations of our trading partners, all of that would be meaningless if that youth would not grow up as responsible adults.

Unfortunately, our education system needs a lot of improvement. The “Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-2015” show no Philippine university included.

That is compounded by the fact that of the almost three million Filipinos currently unemployed, 48.2% are within the 15-24 age group, with 29.9% from those in the 25-34 age group. Most of them are high school graduates.

All these are not contributing to the proper formation of the youth. And yet, nothing could be more devastating to them than the weakening of the traditional family institution.

But unfortunately, teenage pregnancy in this country rose by 70% in the past 10-year period (114,205 in 1999 to 195,662 in 2009). Figures for 2010 show 206,574 of such pregnancies. Data from the National Youth Commission show that the Philippines is third highest in Southeast Asia and among the highest in the ASEAN region and the only country where that number is increasing.

Also disconcertingly, 13-14% of all registered marriages are among teenagers. On the other hand, perhaps not coincidentally, there is also a rise in annulment cases (records indicate a 100% increase in the past 10 years). Add to that the increasing incidences of rape.

However, not only is economic development retarded by the diminution of the traditional family institution, economic inequality is fostered as well.

According to Jeff Jacoby in a November 2014 article, “One report, aptly titled ‘For Richer, For Poorer,’ is by sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the American Enterprise Institute and economist Robert I. Lerman of the Urban Institute. It documents the profound links that connect family structure and financial well-being and underscores what decades of empirical data have shown: Families headed by married couples tend to be stronger economically than those headed by unwed single parents.”

“‘Anyone concerned about family inequality, men’s declining labor-force participation, and the vitality of the American dream should worry about the nation’s retreat from marriage,’ the authors write. The steady fall in the percentage of married two-parent households -- from 78% in 1980 to 66 % in 2012 -- goes a long way toward explaining why so many ordinary families have trouble climbing beyond the lower rungs on the economic ladder. Correlation isn’t proof of causation, of course. But there is no refuting the strong association between growing up with both parents in an intact family and achieving higher levels of education, work, and income as young adults.”

“To be sure, not all families headed by married parents are stable or successful, and not all children raised by single parents struggle economically or professionally. Barack Obama, who was two years old when he was abandoned by his father, is dramatic evidence of that. But as Obama himself says, the data aren’t in question. ‘Children who grow up without a father are more likely to live in poverty. They’re more likely to drop out of school. They’re more likely to wind up in prison.’”

The message was emphasized further by Aparna Mathur: “Wilcox and Lerman document how the shift away from marriage and traditional family structures has had important consequences for family incomes, and has been correlated with rising family-income inequality and declines in men’s labor force participation rates. Using data from the Current Population Survey, the authors find that between 1980 and 2012, median family income rose 30% for married parent families, for unmarried parents, family incomes rose only 14%.”

With such scientific and researched backing, then the media’s, academe’s, and policy makers’ wholesale effort to look the other way is truly the height of irresponsibility.

Dominated as they are by left-leaning “progressive” thought, the only thing that matters to them is to further ideologically driven policy initiatives such as divorce, same-sex marriage, the Reproductive Health Law, and euthanasia. Any evidence that shows the necessity to strengthen the traditional family institution simply does not fit their narrative.

Offending hate speakers

this is a repost of an October 2013 article for BusinessWorld:

Last week was full of statements calling for the unconstitutionality of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (Offending religious feelings). That such calls are reactionary and biased is to point out the obvious. The claims, however, were also based on fallacious reasoning and on assumptions that have no basis in or disregard reality.

We will ignore complaints that Article 133 violates Church/State separation for their utter obliviousness on what the concept really means. Also to be snubbed is that supremely asinine argument that Christians must forgive everything and forget about justice. That has never been the Catholic Church’s teaching. Forgiveness must always be coupled with justice.

Then there’s the dim-witted "Spanish-era" Article 133 is "antiquated" position. But by that "logic," the US Constitution and the Ten Commandments must be discarded as well.

Instead, we look at the argument that the foregoing provision is unconstitutional for conflicting with free speech. Such, however, ignores basic constitutional law: the right to free speech is not absolute. One cannot libel or slander people, commit vandalism to express opinions, display obscenities, falsely shout "fire" in crowded places. The point here is not to stifle dissent or contrasting ideas but to restrain speech that deliberately is meant to sow hate, violence, or intolerance.

The provision, as it’s currently viewed, has nothing theocratic about it. Neither is it meant to favor a specific religion. It simply acknowledges the fact that there are some things people feel strongly about. Hence, why crimes committed in another’s house or murdering one’s own family members, or assaulting teachers or public officials, have higher penalties. Considering today’s fears of terrorism, one can go to jail just by making a joke about bombs while inside an airport. That is why the Civil Code has a provision restraining rich people from flaunting their wealth in times of public want (see Article 25).

One incredibly bizarre argument recently made is that priests who speak against the RH law during Mass also offend the feelings of those who are pro-RH. But this ignores the constitutional right of the priest to religion and free speech, the constitutional right of the pro-RH individual to religion which includes the right to stop being a Catholic and not attend Mass, and the fact that what is being punished by our laws is not the contrary idea being expressed but the hateful, intolerant manner in which it is expressed.

Then there are people who argue that free speech shouldn’t come with restrictions. Such argument, again however, inanely disregards reality. And also quite hypocritical: I bet that any person who argues that, if confronted with someone who joins their family party and starts insulting them, causes a ruckus, makes them look silly in front of the cameras, and then posts pictures and smugly boasts about it in the Internet, would not hesitate to have the law fully enforced.

The other argument employed is why should religion be given distinct protection? If an Imam, it is argued, enters a gathering of atheists, disrupts proceedings, then why would that not be considered a crime? Actually, it is. On the top of my head, it could constitute qualified trespass, tumults, alarms, unjust vexation, or violating the right to peaceful assembly.

On the other hand, it’s also true that religion is given such protection because it is so fundamental, an inherent and self-evident inclination of people, that the right to religion is considered a primary human right that must be respected. Hence, this right to religious freedom is protected, not only by our Constitution, but also by international instruments such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

That is why many countries in the world aside from the Philippines penalize hate speech (i.e., speech vilifying persons on the basis of some characteristic like race or religion). Poland, Norway, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa, Canada, Germany, Denmark, amongst others, impose punishments for it. The European Court of Human Rights has consistently ruled against speech offending religious sensibilities and hate speech. Britain punishes hate speech that seeks to "stir up religious hatred."

The point here is: whether or not you believe in religion or agree with the doctrines of a religion, the reality remains that religion is something fundamental to most people’s identities and their conception of rights. This fact, like the attachment to the ideas of family or marriage (both definitely established human rights as well) is something that liberals, progressives, or leftists have puzzlingly been unable to comprehend. The plea for tolerance (correctly understood from the Latin tol -- to endure a burden) should never be understood to mean that people must shut up about their religious rights.

Simply put, there may be room for sloppy thinking in the public square but none at all for bullying and boorishness.